And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to him, saying, Master, we would that you should do for us whatever we shall desire.…
I. PROBABLE. ORIGIN. Peter and James and John certainly enjoyed a sort of precedence over the other apostles; they were primi inter pares at least, and constituted an inner circle among the members of the apostolic office. They were not only the first called to follow Christ, and to undertake special service in his cause; they had been privileged with his closest confidence; and they were admitted as his sole attendants, as we have already seen, on three most remarkable occasions. It was soon after one of these occasions, that of the Transfiguration, that the dispute about precedence occurred, on their journey to Capernaum. The natural inference seems to be that the prominence assigned to these three favourite apostles excited the jealousy of the rest, and occasioned the dispute referred to. And now again two of these aspiring men, having their heart still fixed on an earthly and secular kingdom, had their ambition fired by our Lord's mention of twelve thrones, as recorded by St. Matthew, and the apostles seated on them, in the regeneration, that second birthday of our world, in which the present sufferings and sorrows of earth's travail-throes shall at length issue. Accordingly, ashamed perhaps to present the petition themselves, they induce their mother Salome, according to St. Matthew's record, to present it for them, "desiring a certain thing of him;" and according to the principle, Quod facit per alterum facit per se. They thus try by a sort of trick, if we may so say, to make sure of our Lord's consent before specifying the nature of this unreasonable petition.
II. THE CUP AND THE BAPTISM. By "cup" is meant one's lot or destiny, be it good or bad, especially the latter. Thus, "Thou makest my cup run over," where the lot is plenty; and the words, divested of the figure, are nearly equivalent to, Thou givest me a plentiful supply as my lot. Again, it stands for vengeance allotted to the wicked, as is said of Jerusalem, "Thou hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out;" and in Psalm 75:8, it is the cup of wroth, or the portion of Divine and deserved indignation apportioned to the wicked, for it is there written, "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them." Baptism, again, has three different meanings, or rather applications, in Scripture. There is baptism with water, a Christian sacrament; there is baptism by the Holy Spirit, or regeneration, which is that change by which we become truly Christians; and there is baptism in the sense of suffering, which is its meaning here.
III. A MISRENDERING. "But to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." This verse, as it stands in our version, seems to limit the power of the Savior, and to be at variance with his own statement in Luke 22:29, where he says, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." It also appears flatly to contradict that! promise of our Lord recorded in Revelation 2:21, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne." Various methods of rectification have been resorted to. The Latin Vulgate cuts the knot by inserting, vobis, to you, and so rendering the clause in question, "It is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." But as this addition is not supported by any manuscript authority, it must be rejected as arbitrary. Still more unwarrantable is the explanation of some, who understand the answer of our Lord as having reference only to the time previous to his sufferings, as though it meant, "It is not mine to give till after I shall have suffered; then all power will be vested in my hands." Now, the difficulty is in a great measure created by the words supplied in our version, and therefore marked in italics as above. The ellipsis thus indicated is either too little or too large. It must either be extended or eliminated altogether. We might enlarge the ellipsis, and take the clause to signify, "It is not mine to give (as a matter of favouritism), but it is mine to give (on the ground of fitness) to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." It is much better, however, to omit entirely the words supplied. This at once does away with the difficulty, and removes the seeming contradiction, while the sense of the original thus becomes plain and clear. Accordingly, we would read the last part of the verse thus, "Is not mine to give, but [save] to them for whom it is prepared." The preparedness of the recipients, not the power of the Savior, is the only limitation of the bestowment in question. This power, again, is exercised in accordance with the Divine purpose, while in Romans 8:29, 30 we have a full declaration of such purpose: "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." The view which we thus adopt corresponds with the rendering of the old Syriac, which translates the portion of the verse before us without supplying any words. It is confirmed by Luther's German translation. It has the sanction of several other important versions, both ancient and modern. The only objection to this, namely, that ἀλλὰ has thereby the sense of εἰμὴ, is set aside by comparing Matthew 17:8 with Mark 9:8, Where, in recording the same fact, in nearly the same words, St. Matthew uses εἰ μὴ, while St. Mark expresses the same sense by ἀλλὰ. Even in the chapter immediately foregoing (Matthew 19.), ἀλλὰ is employed in nearly the same signification at the eleventh verse: "All men cannot receive this saying, save (ἀλλὰ) they to whom it is given." Though not identical, they closely approximate, for "res eodem recidit sire oppositione sive exceptione" If an ellipsis be at all admissible in the verse we are considering, then the words suggested by Alford, "Is not mine to give, but it shall be given by me," or those supplied by De Wette, "Sondern denen wird es verhehen," or even those supplied in the Revised Version, "Is not mine to give: but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared, are undoubtedly preferable to those supplied in our common version, and express the sense much better. Still, even the words thus introduced to eke out the meaning of the origininal seem awkward and unnecessary. - J.J.G.
Parallel VersesKJV: And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.